Malo

Three years ago, our family went on holiday to this very Pacific Island. It was a very different time. I was so sick back then, and full of trepidation that we would have a medical emergency while I was away. I remember how it took weeks of agonising effort to pack and how the things we brought with us included a box of medical supplies and equipment. I remember waking each morning into the humid air and swallowing down my medications, hoping I could cope with the day ahead. In the context of how ill I was, Tonga was very kind to me last time. But this time, my simple ease of being throws our last experience into stark contrast. I am amazed at how different I am.

I’ve been in remission now for two years. I’m stronger, fitter and have more stamina. Last trip, I managed some floating in the ocean. This trip, I’ve kayaked and snorkeled and swum and throroughly enjoyed everything the island has to offer. I was struck last time by the similarity of this place to my childhood home in Papua New Guinea. And last time, it was a kind of catharsis for me, being here. I had time to reflect on my childhood memories and say goodbye to that place in my mind I had never truly left. This time, it is a tangible physical remembrance and a positive one. Cruising over brilliant coral reefs, to the slow shushing of snorkelled air, takes me back to happy holidays in Madang and the Duke of York Islands. Scooping green coconut jelly from the shell for breakfast. So many strong memory cues. I feel peaceful and alive, rested and immensely grateful.

I hope the contrast between sick and well, will always strike me. I hope I will always feel this grateful for the gift of wellness. It is a beautiful thing to walk through the world without the weight of all that. Freedom. Yet I am perplexed by the necessary cost of wellness and ‘freedom’. They are not actually free at all, we pay in busy-ness, responsibility and pace. We lose the time to think, write, create. I haven’t blogged in so long and I’ve missed it keenly. Here, on a tropical island with no daily tasks to complete, no punishing schedules, no animals to care for and none of the usual husband/ kids/ homestay student demands it is easy to think I just need to change the way I do things at home.

But how?

None of the things that need doing are outsource-able. No one else will magically do them. I know, feeling rested as I am, I will put my shoulder into things when I get home. There will be a honeymoon period of almost enjoying all the motherly-housewifely tasks. I will be grateful for my own home again, eager to cook my family fresh New Zealand produce. Keen to drive my own car and be independent. Happy to get the laundry all tickety-boo. Maybe the answer is in micro-breaks. I’ll make a conscious effort to get out of the house and catch up with friends. Go alone somewhere for a morning just to write. Take a book to the top of the mountain with the dog. Start yoga.

But most importantly, I am going to begin planning the next holiday. Somewhere different next time. Somewhere it will take us a long time to save for, but that will create amazing memories. Travelling is a gift to the soul and a chance to breathe and get perspective. It pulls us all back together and we play cards again, minds cut loose from the relentless pull of social media. I need to prioritise travel more in our family budget. All of us are so relaxed. As I write, my hubster is swinging in the hammock, my kids are reading books; he on his tummy, idly circling his feet in the air, she, twirling her hair meditatively, small piece after piece. Their skin is nut brown, the dark circles gone from their previously pale faces. It makes me sublimely happy.

Speaking of reading, I read an extraordinary book in the first few days here that had me quite consumed. It’s a novel by a first time author, Gabriel Talent, about a girl growing up in Mendocino with a mentally unstable survivalist for a father. Harrowing and hard going, the writing is however, breathtaking. I found myself pausing frequently to marvel at his facility for description, more like poetry in parts than prose. I wouldn’t recommend it as a relaxing read, but it is stunning in it’s style and expression. ‘My Absolute Darling’ if you are like your fiction gripping, disturbing and even temporarily soul destroying….

Now I am reading W.Somerset Maugham’s ‘South Sea Stories’. He is also a king of description, although more sparse and understated. I love that he is describing the Pacific I love, but from many generations ago. Fascinating. Here is his description of the ocean, the very same that twinkles just beyond my fale doors.

“The Pacific is inconstant and uncertain like the soul of man. Sometimes it is grey like the English Channel off Beachy Head, with a heavy swell. And sometimes it is rough, capped with white crests and boisterous. It is not so often that it is calm and blue. Then, indeed, the blue is arrogant.

The sun shines fiercely from and unclouded sky. The trade winds get into your blood and you are filled with an impatience of the unknown. You forget your vanished youth, with it’s memories, cruel and sweet, in a restless intolerable desire for life.

But there are days also when the Pacific is like a lake. The sea is flat and shining. The flying fish, a gleam of shadow on the brightness of a mirror, make little fountains of sparkling drops when they dip. There are fleecy clouds on the horizon, and at sunset they take on strange shapes so that it is impossible not to believe that you see a range of lofty mountains. “

I love Maugham’s observations of the changing moods of the Pacific. Each day here is so different. Today we are overcast and the ocean is grey on grey, rippled by a warm breeze and gently lapping on the shore. The palm fronds are swaying gently and the wildlife mostly quiet, indolent in the heat and waiting for the cool of evening. I am about to get up and make myself a chai tea. I will take it down to the beach and blow the steam across the rim and over the horizon. Exhale, inhale.

Malo.

Toe Dancing :: Secret of Life


Just now, I noticed that my toes were dancing.
I’m listening to my soul-minstrel, James Taylor.  He makes my toes jiggle. Which makes my heart giggle. It’s happiness, right there.   I’m just going to leave these lyrics and his song here for you. Maybe you need a bit of toe dancing on this fine Friday night, too.

The secret of life
Is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it,
There ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got
To the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down,
We might as well enjoy the ride.
The secret of love
Is in opening up your heart.
It’s okay to feel afraid,
But don’t let that stand in your way.
‘Cause anyone knows
That love is the only road.
And since we’re only here for a while,
Might as well show some style.
Give us a smile.
Isn’t it a lovely ride?
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
Now the thing about time
Is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view,
How does it feel for you?
Einstein said he
Could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space,
The smile upon your face,
Welcome to the human race.
Some kind of lovely ride.
I’ll be sliding down,
I’ll be gliding down.
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
(Isn’t it a lovely ride?)
Sliding down, gliding down,
Try not to try too hard,
It’s just a lovely ride.
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

Not Your Shoe Size

When I was still in Primary School, some of the boys enjoyed teasing me. Just usual stuff, hair pulling, insults, anything really to get a reaction. Sometimes, the teasing would cross the line and I would cry. I remember Allister in Year 5, the one with the rats tail, telling me in his mealy mouthed, spit dribbling way, to act my age, not my shoe size. Back then I was ten. My shoe size was already a size 10; I looked down at him through my tears, narrowed my eyes and said in that scathing way only primary-aged-girls to primary-aged-boys can: “I am”.

It’s a funny (peculiar) thing, to reach your forties and feel less like an adult than you did when you were a kid.

Lately I find myself wishing I had a mum who could take care of things for me.  Having tantrums when people don’t understand me. Wanting to lie in the grass and ignore the calls for dinner. Playing. Being petulant. Speaking my mind and all manner of other childish behaviours.

I feel like this chick.

Maybe it’s menopause, my early entry into the M-zone is not surprising for me, it came early for my Mum and my sister too. I certainly find the addition of hot flushes to my life to be a hair-trigger into the tanty zone.

Maybe it’s Maybelline.  Pffft.

I don’t know, but adulthood sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?  I recently took a break from Facebook, something I would never have contemplated a few years ago. Back when I was sick, Facebook was my lifeline. I love Facebook. But my inner child was stomping her foot and putting her hands over her ears.  Too. Much. Noise.

For the first time ever, we asked for a home stay student to be moved to another family. I found it so hard to do, I was broken up over the decision. It was the beginning of me realising that I am overstretched, not coping, not ‘adulting’ in the way I believe I should. You know that dream you have sometimes, where you are running and running and running, but the ground doesn’t move beneath your feet at all? Maybe that is just my recurrent nightmare, but I feel just like that. I’m running, but not getting anywhere. My voice is being whipped away by the wind. I’m overwhelmed with all the business required of me, but I don’t have the resources to meet demands.

So I have been taking these steps back, wherever I can. Maybe all women get to this point at midlife. Maybe I’m just pathetic. I look at my life and I wonder if I will ever achieve anything. I look at my kids and I wonder if I am doing a good enough job. I look at my marriage and I hope that he will love me through this season too, because I am not the woman he met all those years ago. I am changing. I am regressing into the child I feel like I am.  I see the moody ineptitude of myself and I want to run away from myself and climb a tree, stay up there until the sun goes down and someone forces me inside for a meal cooked by someone else, followed by bed.

My shoe size is now an 11.
But in European sizing, I’m a 42.  My exact age.  
It makes me smile a bit to think that I truly am acting my age, and my shoe size. Either way you look at it.

Are you finding yourself hanging out a lot with your inner sole (soul) too?!

create, if…

 

Create, if …you are feeling dull. Or yearning to be transported away from your troubles. Create if you’d like to have that old feeling of personal growth, inner joy, childlike abandon. Create if you know what is good for you, because creating things surely makes us hum from the inside out. It’s in the making from nothing that we discover that long forgotten something about our human state. We need to create to feel content.

Maybe it is food, or babies(!) or lasting love. Maybe it is macrame, or dresses, or miniature worlds. Maybe it is art, or an approximation of art. Whatever it is; making something from the uniqueness of yourself and letting it exist in the world is creating. It’s a magical thing. Within the experience of creating there is soulfood and education for life itself. When I create,  I learn about myself. Go create, if you want to know what I am talking about. Just find your thing, and begin to do it. Create something.  Even if it’s not up to your own standards, let it be just as it is. There is a lot to be said for being kind to yourself about your own creations. What follows is kindness to yourself about other things too, and we all need that.

The last few weeks I have been loving Pip Lincolne’s series for slumpy creatives. She is so good at bringing out the best in people.  And so kind. Reading her words is like listening to a friend talk. All kinds of good.

It has coincided with a new thing I am doing. You may have seen some of it on my instagram feed. I’ve joined the #drawsomethingeveryday movement. Not because I necessarily have the time for it, or the even the desire to do it every day, but because I need it.  When I draw, it distracts me from pain and helps me hold out longer between pills.  When I draw, I remember that I have a natural ability that I haven’t been using. It’s good to no longer be neglecting it. When I draw, it gives back to me. Repose, reflection, peacefulness. It gives me a little circle of calm. The process of creation interrupts the noise and pressure of life. I like that very, very much.

 

Starting something new today….

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

Over the next wee while, I’ll be featuring a few creative types on my blog. They’ll talk about why they create and how the process works for them. Watch this space…

Do you create?  Are you creative?
(PS. I love the way my title, “create, if” sounds like a German person saying the word “creative”, hehe.  I LOVE accents)

 

A picture of pain #drawsomethingeveryday

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

 

Teacher tools. Not all are created equal! #drawsomethingeveryday

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

#drawsomethingeveryday Still in progress. …. but dinner prep waits for no mumma. …

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

Confidence is Beautiful

 

At thirteen years of age, I thought confidence could be bought and worn.

It was a black dress with an attached tartan ra-ra skirt that held all the power.
I knew it was the key to social glory at the upcoming school social. I knew that if I could just wear that dress, accessorised with carefully scrunched long socks and black karate shoes (de rigeur in 1987) …every person in the room would sigh with envy. Marvel at my meteoric rise to uber-coolness. Like in the movies. I knew that in that dress, all my adolescent problems would be solved.

My mother hated it. She thought the dress was cheap and nasty, too short, altogether wrong on every level. Somehow, I convinced her. The dress was bought. My social success was assured.

Sure.

School socials were hot and steamy affairs in the tropics. The air was thick with the smell of Impulse body spray and teen sweat. Palm fronds decorated the breezeway under the stilted classrooms; our makeshift dance hall. Beats and synthesized riffs pumped out of the speakers. A swarm of coral colours and pimply faces hovered around the sound system. It was high excitement. I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck as I walked into the crowd of teenage energy.

“Carrot!” rang out from the cool girl huddle as I walked past. Laughter from the gaggle of girls buzzing around the Queen Bee.
“Carrot!” she hooted, staring straight at me. I was confused. I leaned in,
“Are you talking to me?” I asked loudly, over the music, my smile hovering. I was unsure but a little eager to even have airtime with Her Social Highness.  I didn’t know what she meant by ‘carrot’. She laughed like I was the stupidest creature ever born.
“I’m going to call you Carrot from now on, because you always look like you’ve got a carrot RIGHT UP YOUR ARSE!”.  She and her friends fell about laughing. One mimicked my walk. I tried to evaporate away into the shadows of the palm leaves. Suddenly ridiculous in my dress, my socks, my attempts to fit in. And conscious for the first time of the way that I walk. Wishing I could stand stock still until they were all gone. Knowing I couldn’t enjoy the dance floor, or life itself, with a theoretical carrot up my arse.  It didn’t matter what I wore. A dress wasn’t enough.

 

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By my forties, I’d discovered that confidence is a choice.  Yes, it took me that long.
I discovered it when I did something well out of my comfort zone. I entered an Australian plus size modelling competition. The prize was a contract with Vivien’s Model Management. I didn’t win that competition, but I did win a contract; it was the start (or perhaps just a part) of the life-long process toward feeling confident in my own skin. It seems that mature, curvaceous, giraffe-ish ladies are needed in the fashion world. My speciality seems to be showcasing clothing for mid-life women with a bit of hip and sass. And doing that has built something beautiful in me. I am confident in who I am. Confident that I can be beautiful; me. With all of my flaws and all of my failings.

Working as a model has taught me so many things. But above all, I have learned that feeling beautiful is an inside job. It’s just a choice we make. A decision to believe that everyone can see the best of us, to let it shine even when we feel insecure.  So, for me, confidence is just self-belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In the face of those millions of reasons why I feel unworthy about calling myself beautiful, the same reasons that cripple so many women. It’s listening instead to that small, insistent and compelling voice that tells me we all are beautiful. And that means, me too.  If I could go back in time to my thirteen year old self on that night of adolescent embarassment, I’d whisper to her:

“-fake it, baby.  Stand up tall, flash that mean girl a brilliant, dismissive, smile. Stride away, don’t skulk in the shadows. Just fake it til you make it, until the only person you need to impress, is you. Because one day, you will make it to that place. And it is going to feel amazing’.

On Saturday, I spent the day in that place. We were in the studio and design space of a renowned New Zealand fashion label, Euphoria Designs. We were shooting beautiful clothes from the new summer range, in a campaign that has me all excited about the future.  Euphoria Design’s campaign selected ten ladies from their competition, ‘Confidence is Beautiful’. The entries were put to public votes, and between those (thank you if you voted for me!) and the judges deliberations, we were chosen. They were looking for a diverse group who would represent their customers, their world of wearable design. Our world, as fashion consumers.  It is rare to see ourselves reflected in fashion media, regular & irregular women, diverse women. Women of various ethnicities, ages, heights, sizes, social status, health. Some fashion houses are ahead of others. Some fashion houses get it.

Monique Angus (designer of Euphoria clothing) is a woman who understands how important it is to show it. She herself is effortlessly elegant. The archetype of a classical beauty. And yet she comprehends the significance of diversity in fashion media. On Saturday she swished about the studio, quietly supporting all the girls, explaining her pieces, listening …and even clearing away our dishes. She is a thoughtful soul, with an eye for detail and a commitment to all the things that make New Zealand fashion great; quality, superb cut, beautiful construction and unique prints. Her clothes are simply gorgeous: drapey, elegant, quirky, interesting. And her campaign was simply lovely: inclusive, affirming, generous and encouraging. She made us all feel so special, so much a part of the Euphoria philosophy. I hope our pictures might encourage others to explore Euphoria, too. Monique has something for everyone, even when the budget is tight. I found such treasures in her outlet racks!

It was a very special day for me.

It’s a while since I’ve been booked for any commercial modelling, and my day with this campaign felt like a quiet confirmation. Whether it is over, or still beginning, I can do this. I love to do this.
Representing women of a certain age, women with curvier form, women who have taken a long time to discover their own beauty, women for whom confidence has not come easy… that lights me up.
(And if you, too, would like to see more diversity in fashion media, more women like the ones above modelling clothes on websites and in magazines; let your favourite brands know!)

A dress isn’t enough. Confidence comes from an active choice.  And when you choose to step into your own kind of beauty, to own it, well then… that’s when a dress can truly do magic.

Recently a dear friend of mine told me her favourite quote. It is now one of mine.  I hope it will resonate with you, too.

“We are not meant to be perfect, we are meant to be whole”
-Jane Fonda.

Let’s not waste a moment more on self-doubt. Whoever you are and whatever your story, you are beautiful. Just the way you are.  Maybe you, like me, have moved on from that ‘carrot’ feeling. Maybe instead you’re in the unhappy-pear-stage, or feeling like an apprehensive-apple, or any one of the body shapes stylists love to group us into. Whatever it is, it’s sweeter than you realise. Stand up, square those shoulders, put a grin on your face and move that body like only you can. Listen to the voice inside you that speaks the truth of your beauty, not the many that speak only to bring you down.

Because when you are confident, it is a beautiful thing, it showers all of your inside sparkles onto the people around you, like glitter, like confetti. Like a celebration of something amazing.  It would be a shame not to share it, right?

I’d love to know what gives you confidence.

Do you have it? How did you find it? Did it take you as long as me?

 

fruit

 

Synergy

Euphoric!

I love a good coincidence. I love the synergies between things and finding unexpected connections.

You who know me and know my story will understand the particular significance of the word ‘euphoria’ for me. Euphoria was my most significant side effect from the immune modulating steroids that put me into remission. I wrote about that here.  Ah, such a buzz that was, and so nice to have a positive side effect from medications! It’s rare, you know, for the meds to produce something lovely!  I like the synergy, that the med that made me happy also made me well.

So, euphoria and I were an established pair.  And that bubbly happiness spread out across the joy of my remission, across the beginnings of becoming a plus size model. And then one day, I found myself in the uber cool flat of a brilliant photographer, Carolyn Haslett, who was going to do a shoot for me. She was so lovely. I felt really embarassed by my lack of knowledge about the high end plus size fashion scene. I mean, I’ve never really had budget for high end fashion, so my knowledge extended to bagging bargains and making style out of what you’ve got. And of course, when I was sick, there was very little call for fancy things.  It was all comfort and practicality, perched up in my bed looking out at the world.

Carolyn is vastly experienced in the world of fashion, here and overseas. She was a patient educator. She chatted about Georgia Pratt, a plus size model she had photographed previously. Georgia is a forerunner for plus size modelling in New Zealand and is now wildly successful in the UK. Carolyn also told me about Euphoria Design. She told me how much I would love their pieces. We went upstairs to her rooftop and she took some photos. I love all the pictures she took, but the one above feels particularly breezy and confident, it’s one of my favourites from that day.  I was wearing my beloved dress from TCD (another oustanding NZ fashion label for plus girls) and enjoying the whole experience.  It was a day for stepping into confidence and learning to move my body for the camera. I learned so much, not just from shooting with Carolyn, but from analysing the photos with her later.

I looked up Euphoria Design when I got home, and joined their facebook page. I am always keen to support local fashion houses, and I wanted to know more about them. Their clothes made me swoon. Luxurious, flowing layers and unique signature prints, I loved them all. I was thrilled when they announced an end of season sale, such a great opportunity to pick up designer delights at a fraction of the new season prices. And then, one day, Euphoria announced they were running a competition. They were looking for ten ladies who exhibited the ideal that ‘Confidence is Beautiful’.

I was beyond excited! I rifled through my photos and found the one Carolyn had taken all those months before, up on her roof. James Taylor‘s song started floating through my mind… I uploaded my pic and wrote about that experience, strutting across the rooftop terrace, totally new to modelling, a novice at confident posing. I wrote about how confidence is a choice you make, to back yourself. And then, even though I will never be comfortable asking for votes, I shared and shared and hoped and hoped.

Last night, I got an email saying I was in!  What a win for women like me, over forty, a little frumpy, a little frazzly, a little frightened about being thought ridiculous. We’re not ridiculous. We are beautiful, for all that we are, all that we do, all that we have experienced.

It made me dance up and down my hallway. I love this competition because it is all about the very thing I believe. We shine when we stand up with confidence and believe in ourselves. We are beautiful when we know ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness; we radiate positivity when we accept ourselves for all that we are and have been through. Beauty and confidence go hand in hand. It’s a feeling. It’s quite a lot like euphoria!

I sat down this morning to write this post because I knew you’d want to know how that competition went.  And as usual, I went to my online graphic program, Canva, to make the blog graphic for the beginning of the post.  I kid you not, look at the font name!

See! Synergy!

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 9.58.32 am

If you’d like to look at Euphoria Design’s beautiful clothes, you’ll find them online here.
Or join their facebook page here and follow the competition as it all unfolds.

So thank you: Carolyn, for the image that helped me place among the winners, to anyone who voted, to Monique at Euphoria & Jane at Identify Marketing for choosing me…

…and thank you ‘synergy’, for making it all feel like a kind of cosmic kismet. I like that.

Your Age

 

 

large photo by Beverly Couper
#letyouragebecomeyou

I’ve been doing some writing for another publication. I can’t publish it here because it’s exclusive to them, but if they choose not to use it, I’ll be popping it up for you to see. I enjoyed writing it so much!

It’s all about curves and confidence, and the circuitous path it took my soul to find a way for both to exist simultaneously in my world. When I was younger, I had no idea that curves would eventually be such a useful part of my self-esteem. I had no idea that the things I hated about my body would become things that I celebrate. How did that happen? How did I get from self-loathing to self-loving?

I had a massive reality check in the experience of living with Pandysautonomia.  A gift of sorts, in the way that all the most memorable life learning can be simultaneously painful, difficult and uplifting.

It made me realise that there are body issues which transcend the petty concerns of comparison. It made me feel the sting of all the time I had wasted on self-criticism, there in front of the mirror, thinking about all the ways people would disapprove of my dimensions. So ridiculous. Mum used to tell me when I was a teenager, that most of the time, other people wouldn’t even be thinking of what my body looked like. That it was a kind of vanity to assume they were. I was convinced there must be others like me. That they were studying every other like-aged-girl to see what was ‘normal’, hoping that they could become it by studying it in all its minutae.  Hoping to find the magic code for ‘cool’ so we could programme ourselves to be so.

I couldn’t be. I was far too tall and generous of beam to ever fit the narrow-hipped, slim legged archetype of the eighties fashion teen; those oversized tops and legwarmers only looked good on petite little things. I didn’t yet understand that being a six foot tall woman required a certain level of bravado. That you need to own your height, your wiggle.  That the most uncool thing of all isn’t wearing a home-made dress, but being a mouseling in a giantess’ body. I had no idea that confidence and ease are the symptom of a simple choice you make. To accept your unique self, no matter how different you are to the established norm. Being free within your own expression of DNA to be your own kind of beautiful.  I wish I’d known that back then.

I could have done a lot with my gorgeous young self that was left undone, all because I didn’t understand. No amount of wishing, dieting, exercising, hoping, slouching, yearning or moping was ever going to change the facts.

I am a giantess.

Fast forward to my middle age… I’m so proud of being built this way. My size has become a bankable commodity since I started plus-size modelling last year. My confidence comes from finally getting it. I’m this person. Who you see is me. All of me. I wear my love of cake in my curves. I wear my love for people in my smile and the wrinkles around my eyes. And I wear my heart on my sleeve, because that is just who I am. No filter. No problem.

Some people love these things about me, and others don’t… and that’s no problem too. I can’t change a thing about it.  I’m happy, at last, in my own skin. Happy to be who I am, in a body that functions. Happy to be surrounded by people I love and to know that above all things, that’s the most beautiful thing of all. He tangata. Happy to be the age I am. To know the things I know. To leave behind me the pointless self-flaggelation of living to the standards of others. It’s a kinder, freer way to live. It makes space within my noisy head for more useful thoughts… the sort that create and feed and nurture me. Building me up to do the same for others.

I’m starting a hashtag across my social media, because I think we don’t celebrate nearly enough, all the ways that age can be ‘becoming’ to women. I’m all about the notion that beauty is relative to your soul, and sometimes, that takes a long time to understand. How are you letting age become you? What are you noticing about yourself that you finally GET, that you didn’t appreciate about yourself when you were younger?

#letyouragebecomeyou

Mothering Myself

This morning I woke up in my hotel room, feeling rested and calm. I stretched one foot out to the right, one arm out to the left, sliding them along the crisp white hotel sheets that I would never have to heave out of the washing machine.  The smile spread from the corners of my mouth all the way to my ears while my eyes stayed shut. It was beautiful. I’d gone to bed at 9pm and my watch informed me that eleven hours had passed between. Eleven. Deep sleeping hours!

For the good of our souls, sometimes just need a break from all the relational roles we carry.(2)

I woke, packed up my things and prepared for the day. I’m down in the hotel bar now having a coffee before I meet the beautiful Sarah, in person, at last. She’s an all-time favourite blogger of mine. The coffee was made for me by a barista who spoke about the complexity of the bean with an earnestness. I smiled at him, but thought about how I will not have to stack that cup in the dishwasher, or refill a kettle, or check the expiry date on that milk.  Just drink it.

I am such a fan of Sarah, as a writer and a person. Meeting her is very important to me.  I can’t wait to wrap her up in a big hug of thanks. To enjoy food and conversation with her and Annette from I Give You the Verbs! Dear Kate had to go and do some very exciting new work stuff, but you can check out her blog here (next time, Kate!) After our bloggy brunch, Miss Annette and I are lighting off for the Yarra Valley for a girls weekend. We’ll take the meandering way, and she promises that I can stop and take pictures to my heart’s content along the way.

Sarah, Annette and Rach
Sarah, Annette and Rach

This trip to Melbourne is something I’ve been longing to do for years. A chance to revisit my past, reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years and finally meet some I’ve been talking to online for a long time. But even more than the gorgeousness of all that, this trip, for me, is all about respite. I just needed to take some time out from all of the ‘adulting’ and be me, on my own, for a bit. The Rach who isn’t looking after anyone but herself, just for a few days.  I need to mother myself.

I need to stretch out, on a big big bed, all alone. To stand next to my soul sisters and spread my arms wide to the sky. To sleep and wake when I feel like it. To please myself doing anything I feel like doing; compromise free. I’ve explored, I’ve shopped, I’ve chatted and I’ve been blissfully quiet. I’ve drunk wine, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane at my old boarding school, I’ve eaten anything and everything I feel like eating without a single bite being cooked by me.

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It’s been gloriously selfish and deeply important for me to do all that.

When you become a mum, you don’t know that you are becoming something other than an ‘individual’. It’s something you have to learn. And once you have learned that by heart, there won’t be respite for a long, long time. My kids are now 8 and 11. The teenagers are now 17 and 18. The family has grown to a point that I’ve been able to set them up to manage their lives without me for a few days. The hubster is doing a stellar job with them. Their schedules are all being met.

I could probably have done this earlier, but I wasn’t internally strong enough to push for it. Sometimes, even with great families, it does take pushing for it. You have to fight for yourself the way you’d fight for your brood.

Respite is something we need to fight for as women, as givers, as mothers and wives. For the good of our souls, sometimes women just need a break from all the relational roles we carry. Freedom to just be ourselves, to turn the nurturing inward. To have a rest from all of that responsibility.  That’s what I’m doing.

I highly recommend it.

It might not be a trip to Melbourne. Maybe, if you have one, it’s a visit to your Mum’s place. Or camping in the spring, all alone. Or a solo movie. It might be a journey to see your cousin, or a drive down winding country roads. Find your respite, sisters of mine. I promise it will feed your soul and bring you joy.

It might be easier than you imagine to make it happen.

Go on.  Tell yourself to have and break and then, for goodness’ sake: go do what you’ve been told!

Full Heart, Half-hearted

I passed a leaf on the path yesterday. Autumn arrived some time ago, but it’s a reluctant beginning. We’ve had an extraordinary summer.  Long, dry and hot. And the first summer in years that I have been able to function like a well person. Trips to the beach most weekends, drinking from the scratchy edge of the thermos cup, eating squishy sandwiches and luke warm sausage rolls. Lying on the blanket looking up at the sky, deeply content that it no longer wheels around me. I have read books this summer, lying on my tummy on the picnic rug, or sheltered by the beach tent.  The most memorable being Chappy and Being Mortal. And this summer, I have joined in, swimming in the surf, riding my bike, climbing the volcano that sits just outside my window. When I was sick I couldn’t make the walk up the steep track without the certainty that there would be payback. I couldn’t enjoy the views, bleat at the resident sheep or let the breeze push my hair back from my face, soothing the heat of my exertion. The few times I managed it, it was with teeth gritted, heart hammering, nausea rising. There is a seat up there, on the lip of the crater. It looks towards our house. It is a favourite spot, not least because I used to look at it from my bedroom window and despair that I might never sit up there again.

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But now I can.

Yesterday, Zed joined me for a walk up ‘our mountain’. He was keen to burn off some excess energy, I’m trying to improve my fitness. Six years of an extremely sedentary, sometimes horizontal life, is hard to physically bounce back from. But now I have a personal trainer, a plan, and yesterday it was my homework to go for a ten minute walk; an as ‘hard as you can go’ kind of walk. The kind of walk that our steep sided volcano track was built for. So Zed and I set off down the road.

I am blown away by how beautiful this country is. We live right in the centre of this sprawling city, but there are green spaces and volcanoes dotted all across the urban landscape. And trees, so many beautiful trees. Trees fill me with calm.  Look at this beauty.

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At the start of the track my intrepid 8 year old darts off to the side of the volcano: “meet you at the top Mum!” he shouts, already shoulder high in grass.  He’s climbing directly up, I’m taking the track. At the top he calls out that he’s going to run down into the crater and meet me up on the other side. He’s always been a ‘road less travelled’ kinda kid. I smile at him and relish the solitude. It’s gorgeous up the top here. Park benches dot their way around the crater rim, looking outwards.

Our national treasures of trees, the Pohutukawa, reach their arms across toward one another, high on the hill, circling the site that once was home to a Maori Pa. You can see evidence of their settlement in the kumara pits that still exist. In true Pa fashion, this crater would most likely have been barren of the grass it now wears. The ground would have been cleared around the whare. Now, the crater is resplendent with a thick carpet of grass.  Around the outside of the volcano, untrimmed by grazing sheep, it is long, rippled by the prevailing winds. But in the shelter of this hollow it resembles an inverted paddock. Like a fish-eye lens has warped the contours of the land. It drops away and lifts again in a perfect bowl. It would have been a safe and easily fortified home for those Maori villagers.  I wish I could go back in time and see how it was, see the cooking fire smoke and listen to the singing.

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Too soon, I’ve reached the far side of the crater rim track. My boy is ascending the steep edge.

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We hear voices, echoing through the natural amphitheatre, we are not alone anymore. A group of teenagers laugh and stumble through a gate that connects the volcano to the streets below. They take selfies and videos to upload onto their social media. One chases a sheep and another calls out “tackle him!”. The sheep has more wits about him than the boy, and is up the mountain faster than a goat. I smile and reach for Zed’s hand. “…it’s nice up here, hey Mum,” he says. His cheeks are rosy. We pass a stand of bamboo and slap the mosquitoes away.  It is nice up here. Even with other people around, it’s beautiful and serene. We come across a few more groups of people. I take some photos and think about how I would like to share them with you.

The two of us stop for a little sit down and I notice for the first time, a plaque attached to the bench. It’s a memorial seat, placed there by the wife of  ‘Michael’. A beautiful spot for remembering. I think about them, the people I don’t know. The words fill my heart. This is the song of my soul’s learning through all those years of illness.

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We sit and think for a while before heading home. Of course, Zed makes off to slide down the slope of the hill, while I take the dirt track. Back on our footpath, I see the trees turning and notice the colours of autumn, slowly but surely transforming the streets.

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I long for the cooler weather, but I have loved my first real summer in years. I realise I am half-heartedly welcoming my favourite season. And just as I think it, I see it, a half-hearted leaf, laid out on the footpath in front of me. Maybe, this year, nature feels the same as I do.

Full heart; half hearted.

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Going Up

oing up

For the chronically ill there are a lot of visits to the hospital. Not just admissions, there are also visits to specialists in hospital outpatient clinics. I am very familiar with the Level 6 clinic at Auckland Hospital.  I’ve been going there for years.  Gastroenterology, General Surgery and Immunology all run their clinics from the same place, the pathology rooms are just down the hall. The neurology clinic happens just upstairs. On a regular rota I have been seeing all of them. And today, I went for what I hope will be the last time. I know I can’t expect it will be forever, but why not hope?  So many of my wishes have come true lately, so many lucky things have been happening for me.

My immunologist is a quiet-spoken man. I’ve written about him before, he is a superhero, that kind of doctor who restores your faith in the medical system. After he invited me into his office he said in his measured voice “What’s been happening?”

“LIFE!” I enthused, “I’ve been busy living life!” His lips twisted in that lets-be-scientific way and he asked a different question, followed by some more. He looked at my file, shook his head and smiled. We discussed how strange (but welcome!) my remission is. He used a word not many doctors use: “miraculous”. And he used it without even a hint of tongue in cheek. He explained that they had searched high and low for an objective test that could unequivocally demonstrate the difference in my condition from before, to now. They just can’t explain it. I observed his wonder at my remission with mild surprise. I forget sometimes, what a different person I must seem to him, this new life fills me with joy, but I think the shock of the change is fading for me. Today, I’m wearing bright clothes, coordinating accessories and my face is fully made up. Even my nails are done, thanks to my new side job. The Rachel he met a bit more than a year ago sat slumped in the same chair, colourless, exhausted and nearly defeated.

“You were so symptomatic…” he reflected. “And look at you now!”

He agreed that I don’t need to attend clinic anymore. And that means no more Auckland City Hospital!!! I’ve never been so happy to farewell someone.

“Come back if you need us again, you may need to have another course every few years, but hopefully not,” he smiled.  Then he stood and said “…well then- give me a hug!”.  We hugged, patient and doctor. We hugged in that slightly awkward but full of feeling way, and I hoped that flowing through my arms he felt my gratitude. I stumbled over my words, something about wishing there was a way I could adequately…
“Just keep doing your good work” he said.

I grinned at him, waved, and walked out of that clinic.  Past all the chairs where people less lucky than me sat, round shouldered, weighed down by their health burdens. Past reception, where my file would be handled for the last time. Through the foyer, past the best barista in Auckland, who has served me more coffees while I’ve been in my hospital nightie than in my street clothes.

By the time I reached the carpark lifts, my heart was already soaring.
The elevator doors opened “…going up?” asked the man in the lift.

“I believe I am” I smiled, stepping inside.